Poetry is supposed to be a lot of things: dark, indulgent, indecipherable—like wine labels or post-modern art. Certainly not the kind of thing you’d pass from friend to friend to friend; not the kind of thing you devour guiltily on the subway; not the kind of thing that reminds you of late night AIM sessions, the note left in a locker, the Moleskine hieroglyphics you perfected as an undergraduate, the words you agree with but never said out loud.
“It bothers me,” writes Ariana Reines, “That you cut out / American Apparel advertisements / And tape them to your bedroom wall.” It is this stinging wit coupled with vulnerability, that make Reines’ long-form epistolary poem about a messy love affair, Coeur de Lion, unique. “I never got good / At affecting the expression / Of truly contemporary beauty,” she writes with language that is spare, quixotic, and refreshingly honest.
As a reader you cannot help but admire Reines’ willingness to wade into this insecurity; to make public the things that most people obscure from view. “Brokeness is not exactly honesty,” she writes, “But sometimes it gets close.” Sure this is a tale of a relationship gone wrong, but it illuminates something, connects something, even two people fall apart.
At its heart, Coeur de Lion is a reminder of the way we were before we became what we are. Contrary to the “businesslike bodies” cultivated at yoga studios, the constantly ringing Blackberry, the non-IKEA furniture, we aren’t, as Lady Gaga might posit, born this way. At one time or another we were sloppy, fragile and young enough to entertain the masochism of unrequited affection. It is only from our present vantage point, Reines reminds us in 95 breathless pages, that you know what the real thing feels like.